Our ‘sensibility’ is not surely an objective-aesthetic experience in terms of understanding, appreciating and even critiquing any art, literature, film etc. But it sometimes demands some ‘common’ sense in, at least, viewing a film. Exorcism is no novel experience in the history of world films. Like stories interwoven around myths and fantasies, devils and evil spirits continue to be a pet theme of the industry for long. We have seen many, and several more must be in the making. Malayalam film industry too tried, however half-heartedly, in the past and some even succeeded in the box office.
One wonders if Jay K would have had some ‘sense’ of what is in store for the Malayali viewers. But, in any case, he fails in his “Ezra” as just another stereotypical addition in a series of ‘horror’ thrillers using myths and stories of evil spirits. No doubt, the ‘culture industry’ here will succeed in generating capital as the viewers are ‘in dire need of’ another ‘trend-setter’ in the monotonous track of celluloid. It is however, by no stretch of imagination, a trend setter. Yet, as a ‘horror-thriller’, ‘Ezra’ is a horrible-reincarnation of many Dybbuk-related ventures in the western world – from the 1937 Polish film “Dybbuk” to Ole Bornedal’s “The Possession” (2012) or David S. Goyer’s “The Unborn” (2009). And there are several others in the category using such evil spirits traditions, leave alone the much-celebrated series of ‘Exorcist’, ‘Omen’ and several others in that category.
Ranjan (Prithviraj) and Priya (Priya Anand), the young couple settled in Mumbai, shift to Kochi as part of taking up a new venture in Ranjan’s career and find an old villa for their living. Priya, in her craze for antiques, soon found a queer box in an antiques shop. The box was mysteriously stolen from a Jewish home (supposedly that of the last Jew in Kerala!) The box turned out to be a Dybbuk, which was believed to possess the spirit of Abraham Ezra, a Jew born in 1941 in Kochi. The story, then, revolves around a love story of Ezra and the determination of his father (who is a supporter of Zionism) to avenge the people (who were responsible for his son’s fate) when the last Jew would have left Kerala. The story unravels itself with a series of unexpected twists and turns. The films ends eventually with the usual exorcism in the expected direction.
Director Jay used a convenient and ‘intelligible’ cultural space for the background of the Jewish diaspora. He would have done some background work in searching the lineages of the Jewish diaspora. There is nothing new in the plot however, except the ‘nuclear waste’ industry’s Kerala ‘contribution’ where Ranjan is expected to play his role as the exporter of ‘evil waste’ on behalf of his firms. “Ezra” can even send some wrong message about what Kerala is all about. People tend to get distracted and disoriented, however unknowingly, that even genuine popular struggles are the bane of the state. The ‘real’ problems, here, are ‘cultural-traditional’ and hence solutions are also ‘cultural-traditional’, bordering on witchcraft or sorcery. How ridiculous the arguments are, in a society which is being made proud of ‘modern’, secular’ and ‘rational ’!
Just see, even in ‘Manichitrathazhu,”a film which got some fame in popular imaginations in the 1990s, some socio-psychic explanation is offered, in the presence of a psychiatrist, Dr. Sunny, who offers his ‘good offices’ to release the ‘evil spirit’ at the end (Dr Kovoor had done similar practices as a strategy, without rationalising it). Here, a police officer is offering his ‘good offices’ to release the ‘evil spirit’ as an end in itself. Hence the couple is back to life! Jay has strategically used a ‘rainbow coalition’ of characters from the Jewish-Christian-Hindu-Muslim’ cultures. How ‘secular’ the framework is ! The script is so weak that it does not convey any message to the viewers, leave alone the society, except the fact that we need to be fearful (not carful) about ‘fears’! The audience gets ‘excited’ because of the visual effects and, apparently, new gen directors think that a film is all about visuals and sounds. Then we don’t need to have a director at all ! We need only have photographers, videographers, light-sound boys and all other background setters, plus graphics-editing technicians. One wonders if the world is moving to this dimension of ‘virtual’ world of directors operating with tech-scripts.
“Ezra” can also be seen as an addition to the typical judeophobiac tradition of ‘horror’ movies where the ‘Jewish evilness’ is dreadfully caricatured, by both Christian and Islamic traditions. Dr. Mikel Koven has done many studies about it in the past showing the ethnocentrism of such movies. Let us be more careful in our understating that Jews are not the problem of this world and they are not here to end the world. The problem is more of our mode of understanding our problems. Hopefully, ‘Ezra’ will not emerge as a movie in judeophobiac tradition of ‘horror’ because Kerala has had an excellent, assorted tradition of coexistence of different religious communities, extended over a two millennia.
The author is Professor, School of International Relations and Politics, Mahatma Gandhi University, Kerala. He can be reached at email@example.com